I’m not here to shill for the Netflix DAREDEVIL series right now.
(But seriously watch it.)
Nor am I here to praise the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, and Michael Clarke Duncan.
(I saw it twice on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2003. My friends are great sports.)
I’m just here to talk about the character. And me. And how, in a world with Spider-Man, Batman, a billion X-Men, and a Man of Steel, the Man without Fear ended up being my favorite character. If you are looking for some, I don’t know, secret to my soul or deep psychological insight here, I think you may come away disappointed. You should still read this. And send the link to others. And occasionally revisit it to goose my hit counts. I’m just trying to temper your expectations. And stall, clearly.
Like most origin stories, my love for Daredevil has fairly benign, uninteresting roots. I was nine years old and sitting in a hotel room in Orlando (or possibly Kissimmee?) Florida. I was on my first trip out of the northeast ever, my first visit to Disney, following my first time in a plane. In the bag by the bed rested the first comic I had ever owned—Web of Spider-Man #67-- a gift from my dad and stepmom to read on the plane. And then, as it turned out, over and over again in Florida, on the plane on the way home, and in the months and years since. I had known Spider-Man before then, of course, through the cartoon, a picture book that came with a record, and the occasional rerun of the live action show that would show up on some local TV station at 2:30 in the afternoon on a rainy Sunday. But this was the first time I had seen him in his “native” environment, if you will. Obviously, it got me hooked on the medium, although it would take years for that interest.
In my memory, I am in the hotel room by myself, but this is impossible. I was on the trip with my mom, my then-step father, and my brother, who has probably just about to turn 5, so there’s no chance it was just me. But I can’t remember anyone else. What I do remember is what was playing on that hotel television: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.
For the unfamiliar, in the 70’s, (the decade before I was born TO BE CLEAR!) the Hulk had a TV series. After the series went off the air, it, like several TV shows of that time, made a few made for TV movies that gave fans a chance to check in with their favorite characters without having to commit to an ongoing series or pay the actors for said ongoing series. There were three such Hulk ones, beginning with “Returns” which gave Hulk a certain Thunder God for a co-star and ending with “Death” as, inevitably it will for us all.
In the middle, however, was Trial. And Trial boasted another Marvel hero, a certain blind lawyer named Matt Murdock aka Daredevil. This Daredevil wore all black—like the costume Netflix starts with or in Frank Miller’s THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR limited series—but the man underneath was the same. Blinded by toxic waste that enhanced his other senses. A lawyer by day, a vigiliante by night. A hero wielding nothing but a radar sense and a billy club to protect his city.
At one point, he whispered, “Your knife is noisy” at a perp and that was it. I was hooked. It’s cheesy, for sure, but nine year old me bought into it hook, line, and sinker.
Now I didn’t see myself in Daredevil. This isn’t that kind of origin story. I was not and am not blind. I was not differently abled in any way. He was an adult, handsome, and strong. Basically everything that felt unobtainable to me in that hotel room at age nine. And yet, he became my “guy” right away.
Now, almost 25 years later (don’t do the math on my age, thank you) he still is. Somehow, nine year old me connected to this utterly alien Man Without Fear and only now, nearly 25 years later, do I see connections between the character I love and the man I am.
Look, super hero comics were, are, will always be, and perhaps always should be in some part power fantasy and wish fulfillment given four color glory. One can certainly argue to approach them otherwise is to elevate them to heights that they do not deserve. I am not unsympathetic to that thesis. But I also know that even amongst juvenile power fantasy and wish fulfillment I can find some, I don’t know, shred of humanity or beating fictional heart that mirrors my own.
Daredevil is a moral man with feet of clay. An intellectual who burns to embrace his physicality. A man of faith who remains uncomfortable and often at odds with that faith—and that faith is Catholic, the faith I was baptized into although I no longer consider myself part. He has the tendency to do the same wrong thing again and again until it nearly breaks him. He is a pile of contradictions who never feels quite right in his own skin despite all evidence suggesting that he should be thrilled with said skin.
As a white 30 something year old man of relative privilege who always wanted to be strong and fast but never quite achieved it, has panic attacks about the afterlife despite being a churchgoer, and doesn’t feel wholly comfortable in the middle of a room filled with friends unless I’m constantly active—to name but a few of my crisscrossing conflicts—how could I not think that I chose right all those years ago?
And now, we are on the eve of the debut of the Netflix series. Fellow fans who are my Twitter “friends” are a buzz and the sense of community is palpable. I have lived long enough to not only see Daredevil on a small TV in a small hotel room, but on the big screen my last Valentine’s Day of college, and now in my home in what seems to be a soon to be critics’ darling Netflix Original Series. All because of the line, “your knife is noisy.”
I don’t know if any of that means anything at all. I just know that it kind of bowls me over. And it has me counting the hours until I can immerse myself in this series. I know I am too old. I know this is yet another super hero oversaturating my culture and the movie star of the world warned me about this during the Oscars. I know this does not validate my love of the medium or the genre. I know all that and I do not care.
The nine year old me is excited. The 12 year old me who read the fourth chapter of “Born Again” on his friend’s bedroom floor while it snowed outside, my first taste of the comic book Daredevil, cannot wait. The 21 year old me who saw Daredevil not once but twice in a 24 hour period during the Holiday Weekend of Love is ready. And every iteration in between. It probably does not make a lick of sense and I am imbuing it with entirely too much profundity, but…hey, what else are super heroes for but to be filled with our overinflated hopes and dreams, our misled beliefs about righteousness and equity, and our longings for the moments of our lives that are as much a part of those floppies as the heroes and villains printed on their pages.
God…this is a mess. But a well-intentioned mess, I promise. Anyway, I really, really like Daredevil. It seems like I always have. I hope I always will. And maybe you might come along for the ride, now and again.